If you’re traveling solo (or with friends), one of the best moments of trips is making a local friend who will show you the ropes of a city. There’s nothing like walking around with a knowledgeable local, hanging out all night learning about the local culture/food/language, and knowing that you have someone to meet up with next time you’re back in town. I’ve made a lot of great friends while traveling and I’ve rounded up more than 10 ways to meet locals while traveling with real stories from travelers!
Note: I encourage you to use caution in deciding who you meet up with! Look up the person, see if others have met up with them, and choose a public place. Tell someone else where you’ll be, just in case. Don’t be afraid to leave if you’re uncomfortable whether it’s by faking text or phone call or simply saying you need to go. You can definitely meet cool people, but you can also meet creeps. Trust your gut and keep the phone number for a local taxi. I recommend not staying with anyone without meeting them first.
One of my favorite ways to meet locals while traveling is in Facebook groups. There’s a Facebook group for practically everything at this point, including travel. Quite a few times, I’ve asked in some of the travel groups (like Girls Who Travel) if anyone was in the area for the next few days.
I’m not sure how many people I’ve connected with thanks to Facebook and its niche groups, but it must be in the hundreds at this point. I’ve had a lot of special experiences with locals I met via Facebook from exploring hidden courtyards in Bucharest, Romania, exploring the countryside of Devon, England to tasting chocolate at one of London’s best chocolatiers.
My time in Paris was completely transformed due to the people that I met via Facebook while living there. Whether it was the spontaneous meeting with Emily exploring private streets in Paris or enjoying a DIY picnic with Megan along the Seine, I probably would not have connected with either of them if it wasn’t for the internet. I’ve also connected with local photographers, local fashionistas, local bloggers, travelers, and local residents via Facebook. (If you’re into photography, you might find a local model for your photos as you explore the city.)
If you’re not where to start, I definitely recommend searching for travel groups as well as local events, such as explorer clubs who might be doing an architecture (or food tour) of a city that you’re visiting! These events are a great way to meet locals while seeing more of the place that you’re visiting.
One of the newcomers on the market is 2 Glimpse. This concept behind this sustainable travel website is that when you’re traveling, you find someone who seems like they have hobbies in common with you. Then, you coordinate to meet up and walk (or bike!) a day in the shoes of another person to experience their life as part of a cultural exchange. I contacted Suzy, a Dutch entrepreneur who happily agreed to show me her favorite spots in Utrecht! It was a really fantastic day out and there were so many things that I learned about life in Utrecht that I would have never known if I had never met Suzy.
2 Glimpse is still growing, but I think the concept behind is really nice as the expectations are completely open to what you’re comfortable with whether it’s a day meeting up with a local in a new city or just a coffee. You decide! You can read my full review of 2 Glimpse here.
Staying in a guesthouse/B&B/hostel
One of the easiest ways to meet locals while traveling to look for a friendly Bed & Breakfast or room in a friendly host’s home (if you prefer Airbnb or Booking). One of my first Airbnb experiences was when I stayed with a friendly Parisian girl who would hang out with me in the evenings. I was in Paris over a week, so we got close during that time as we cooked for each other and enjoyed a glass of wine together in the evenings. On my last night there, she invited me out for dinner and a night out with her friends at a salsa bar (shown above).
I generally recommend reading the reviews to see how involved the owner or staff is involved with guests. I stayed at one fantastic hostel in Belgrade, Serbia where the local staff sent me to all their favorite places to eat as a scavenger hunt and would often hang out with me in the evenings. I didn’t necessarily connect with my other hostel mates, but I was so sad to leave the friendly staff!
If you’re not really an Airbnb or hostel person, I would recommend Bed and Breakfasts for the personal touch. Some hosts tend to be more hands-on, including my hosts in rural Belgium who invited us to dinner at their home prior to playing board games with us. Similarly, in Turin, our Turinese host spoiled us with long breakfasts, stories, and tips. These kinds of experiences definitely make your stay more memorable–and often, you’ll want to head back to the same accommodation next time to catch up with the same owner!
If you’re traveling solo in a new city, Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals without much effort. You can read here about how I use Couchsurfing to meet locals. I don’t necessarily use it for staying over, but rather just meeting up with friendly locals!
After arriving in Belgrade, Serbia on a solo trip, I went through the profiles of a few local women who are heavily involved with Couchsurfing. I had a beer with one lovely lawyer at one of her favorite bars. Another night, I met up with R., a friendly Serbian from Belgrade keen to practice her English with me. We had a lovely chat over a beer and dinner before she invited me out with her friends that night. We had a great time and it gave me a good taste of Belgrade’s wild nightlife scene. You’ll also find weekly (or monthly) meetups within many cities hosted by locals!
It’s a small world after all. Instagram has more than 1 billion active users as of 2019 from all around the world. No matter where you’re going, you’re likely to find a great Instagram account featuring beautiful locations at your destination. When visiting Kosovo a few years ago, I went through some accounts with some beautiful photos of Kosovo as I got inspired for my trip!
I ended up connecting with Lavdi, an Albanian from Kosovo in the non-profit world who gave me so much great advice on what to do in Kosovo. She was unable to meet up with us during our trip due to a wedding, but we ended up taking our online friendship offline in person a few months later when she visited Amsterdam for her work. Her struggles with having a difficult passport opened up my eyes on passport privilege and it is truly a privilege to call her a friend today. (We met up in Albania around two years ago.)
Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone cool with great photos and/or interesting locations on their public Instagram. Something as simple as a question might be enough to start a friendship with a local!
If you’re into niche hobbies, one of the best ways to meet locals while traveling is using Meetup groups! My father is an avid tennis player who loves to play tennis on vacation, however, if you’re a singles player traveling, you need to find a partner to rally with. My dad has used various tennis groups on Meetup to find fellow tennis lovers no matter where he goes, so he can easily pick up a game on the go.
You’ll find groups for almost every interest, including getting cold craft beers, going hiking, or simply going out dancing for a night. If you’re looking for a fun event to just meet people, download the app before you leave and check the calendar near you for upcoming events!
Traveling by public transport by Ellie & Ravi
We find there’s nothing like traveling like the locals do for getting to know more about the culture of a country you are visiting, and making new friends along the way. There’s something about being in a confined space for a long journey to bring people together – regardless of age, background, and language. On a train, bus or boat going somewhere (and especially if it’s delayed) everyone becomes equal.
On public ferries around the backwaters of Kerala, India, we made friends with local school kids and their parents, getting tips for the best places to visit along the backwaters that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about at all. On long, 12 hour plus train journeys in India we’ve shared meals with strangers, chatted about politics and even been invited to attend weddings!
The wonderful thing is this can be just as true in all countries: Friendly conversations and encounters are not confined to the “chicken bus” in South America or long train journeys in India. Back home in the UK, on a delayed train journey to Devon last Christmas, the train was so full people were standing for hours and sitting in corridors. Eventually, we decided we could relay an order for beer down to the bar car, each person passing along the money and order, down the next two carriages. Not only did the beer make it back; the change did too.
That’s one of the best things about taking public transport in new places: The journey is the adventure. Some of our favourite public transport journeys to date include Chiang Mai to Laos by slow boat, London to Scotland by train, taking the Rocket Paddlesteamer in Bangladesh, and Mumbai to Goa (India) by train.
Language Exchange by Jamie
When I travel, I love to spend my time learning the local language. The best way to do that, obviously, is by meeting up with locals and having conversations! Fortunately English is usually the language that non-English speakers want to learn, so I have no problem finding language exchanges, where I get to practice the local language and the local gets to practice English.
There are about a million and a half websites where you can find locals interested in meeting up, but one of my favorites is Conversation Exchange. It’s easy – you tell the search engine what language(s) you speak, what you want to learn, and where you are, and it matches you up with potentials.
Once you find someone who is interested, it’s as simple as meeting up at a coffee shop and talking; it’s more of an intentional hangout than anything else.
I’ve been able to learn so much about local cultures this way, practice my speaking, and learning about what my culture does that others think is weird. And, honestly, I think more travelers should make more of an effort to learn local languages because it teaches you more about the people and the culture than you could learn any other way.
Tinder by Quirky Globetrotter
For some reason, swiping left and right becomes a lot more exhilarating when you’re in a country that you do not call home. Thanks to dating apps, such as Tinder, travelers can not only wine and dine local hotties, but can make lifelong connections.
Case in point: Ondrej, my hot date in Prague, who is now a lifelong companion. Ondrej’s first photo on Tinder was a candid photo of him on the Cliffs of Moher. That instantly qualifies as a swipe right for me. Beyond that, he was devastatingly gorgeous and ironically a local to Czech.
Luckily, we matched instantly and decided to meet up at his favorite coffee shop. I begged him to dish on the best local hot spots in Prague. We quickly burned through our allotted time and decided to meet up again that evening to explore the banks of the Vltava River together.
Having Ondrej as my guide opened up my eyes to the intimate, hidden details of Prague. We sat and watched the boats cruise on the Vltava from his favorite spot. We enjoyed Czech beers at a hole-in-the-wall bar/cafe that overlooked the quieter streets of Prague. He charmed me with his adorable Czech accent and told me what it was like growing in Czech.
Ondrej brought Prague to life in a different way that all the guidebooks and tourist information couldn’t. He made me fall in love with his city as if it was my own home.
I left Prague and Ondrej behind a few days later. Before I left, he made sure to recommend some Czech villages to explore to make sure I expanded on my authentic Czech experience. I stayed on a goat farm where I befriended a goat named Rosie and her owners. I trekked to Holašovice where a local opened her historic home to me to see up close the beautiful folk, Baroque-style architecture.
I experienced Czech differently thanks to Ondrej… and Tinder, too. Though, it is important to exercise caution when meeting someone you’ve connected with virtually. A few quick tips about dating safely while abroad: Make sure you’re always meeting in a public place. Also, have a Plan B at the ready in case the date goes terribly wrong. If you feel uncomfortable, make sure you can get to somewhere safe. If you drink, be cognizant of the amount of alcohol you are consuming on your date. Never take a drink that you did not see the bartender pour. Most importantly, listen to your gut. If you feel uneasy at all, tell someone and leave. Don’t worry about being rude. Worry about being safe.
To ease your fears, I’ve had countless wonderful Tinder dates with locals since Ondrej. It’s certainly possible to safely date while abroad. In fact, Ondrej still writes to me and sends me photos of my favorite Czech streets and beers. My connection with Ondrej reminds me to always reach out to locals and dive into authentic experiences while traveling. I’m lucky enough to say that I’ll always have a special someone to show me around Prague.
Homestays by Alexander
If you want to learn more about the local Culture and really get to meet the locals, I suggest doing a Homestay. This is exactly What it sounds like, you stay in someone’s home together with them.
Not every homestay is the same because every family is unique, and since it’s a real interaction between guests and the host, it will of course also depend on the Connection between them. I have done some homestays where the host have been happy to talk about their country or city but not hanging out so much in their free time. I have also done homestays where we spent the evenings talking for hours and had dinner together, like a family. You can read Reviews Before booking at Homestay.com which makes it easier to see other traveler’s experiences. You can also write to the host Before booking.
There are other sites as well, but Homestay.com is the largest one and the site I have had the best experiences with. It’s easy to find a place in most countries, and it’s the same procedure as booking a regular hotel. I have done this in Italy, Japan and Nepal and all experiences have taught me much about the local Cultures that I would’ve probably not been able to experience otherwise.
For LGBTQ travelers: Gay Dating Apps (Grindr, Scruff, others) by Adam
To meet other LGBTQ backpackers and travelers, the absolute easiest way to make new friends is with the various gay dating apps. Grindr is my preferred app of choice because it’s so ubiquitous, but there are many others that work well depending upon where you are in the world. For example, Israelis have their own dating app called Atraf—which works a lot like Grindr—so that’s the best one to use when visiting Israel in order to meet actual locals. Still, though, Grindr is common just about everywhere. The Scruff app, though, has a useful travel feature built into it which allows you to get recommendations from local “ambassadors,” and to find out about events or parties at LGBTQ venues. (HER is a popular app for lesbians.)
Don’t think that the dating apps are only meant for hookups, because more often than not, it’s possible to meet someone willing to hang out with a tourist. Oftentimes I’ll find a gay local who’s more than happy to show off their home to a traveler like myself. Whether it’s for a coffee in Berlin, a night out of dancing in Dallas, or an impromptu walking tour in Manchester. It’s just a matter of how you introduce yourself on the app!
Safety is the biggest concern with meeting strangers through the dating apps—especially in countries where homosexuality may be illegal. In some destinations such as Dubai where the Grindr app is blocked, using a VPN may be necessary. Use common sense, and be extra cautious: always plan to meet in public and let others know of your plans if you can. One time in Amman, Jordan, I chatted with a local on Grindr who suggested a gay bar in the city; we didn’t end up meeting, but he provided me with some great tips and at the bar, I was then able to meet others. Check local LGBTQ safety information by reading queer news sites or checking travel advisories from the U.S. State Department or the crowd-sourced Equaldex site which tracks equality.